The court also directed Shell Nigeria and its Anglo-Dutch parent company to install a leak detection system on the Oruma pipeline to prevent future oil spills that could cause damage of land and water in the Niger Delta region.
However, the ruling could be challenged in a Dutch Supreme Court by Shell, as the multinational oil giant argued that saboteurs were responsible for the leaks. In its ruling, the court said the oil company could not convince the jury ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that saboteurs were responsible rather than poor maintenance.
The spills were said to have occurred between 2004 and 2007, but pollution from leaking oil pipelines is a perennial problem in the Niger Delta.
“This makes Shell Nigeria responsible for the damage caused by the leaks in the villages of Goi and Oruma,” the court said.
Friend of the Earth Netherlands, an international environmental rights group that supported the farmer’s case in the Netherlands case,celebrated the court’s verdict in a tweet.
“Tears of joy here. After 13 years, we’ve won,” the group’s Dutch branch tweeted following the ruling.
Data obtained from the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor, which records the location of oil spill areas in the country revealed that an estimated 240,000 barrels of crude oil are spilt in the Niger Delta every year, polluting waterways, contaminating crops, and releasing toxic chemicals into the air.
A 2011 report by the UN Environment Programme estimates that after years of repeated oil spills in the Niger Delta, it would take 30 years to reverse damage to public health and the regional ecosystem.
Royal Dutch Shell stated it was ‘disappointed’ with the verdict of the court, alleging that the oil spills were as a result of sabotage.
“We continue to believe that the spills in Oruma and Goi were the result of sabotage,” it said in a statement.
Shell Nigeria is also currently involved in an ongoing legal dispute in the Hague brought by widows of former Nigerian environmental activists who were killed in 1994, blaming the multinational company for its alleged complicity in the unlawful arrest, detention and execution of their husbands by the Nigerian government.
However, Shell denies the allegations, challenging the decision of the District Court of The Hague to hear the case, stating it lacked jurisdiction to hear the suit.
Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.